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O.C. sheriff faces a June trial in federal corruption case

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge Wednesday set June 10, 2008, for the trial of indicted Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, his wife, Deborah, and his former mistress, Debra V. Hoffman.

The Caronas were also cleared to contact two people considered potential witnesses against them, including their tax preparer.

U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford called the June date firm unless new charges were filed against the defendants or others were charged. Assistant U.S. Atty. Brett A. Sagel said the trial would last about 30 days.

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Carona is accused of misusing his office to enrich himself and others, including his wife and Hoffman, who is identified in the federal indictment as his longtime mistress. They were charged in a 10-count indictment unsealed last month.

Defense attorneys complained Wednesday that the government was not moving fast enough in turning over discovery items, including witness statements. The issue will remain unresolved until Guilford hears additional motions.

As part of the day’s proceedings, the sheriff’s attorney, H. Dean Steward, and Deborah Carona’s attorney, Dave Wiechert, asked the judge to modify an order that prohibits the couple from contacting potential witnesses.

Steward said that prosecutors listed about 30 people, some of whom are close friends of the Caronas -- including their tax preparer and Deborah Carona’s best friend.

Former Orange County Assistant Sheriff Donald Haidl was the only witness identified at the hearing; the rest of the list is sealed.

But it is unlikely that Haidl and Carona will have any contact, given that Haidl pleaded guilty to a tax offense and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors against Carona. He surreptitiously recorded at least one meeting with Carona at the request of the FBI.

Steward called the no-contact order “unnecessary and cruel” because it strips the Caronas of their friends’ support. Wiechert suggested it was unconstitutional because it deprived the couple of the freedom to associate with their friends.

The attorneys asked the judge to allow the Caronas to associate with some people on the list on the condition that they not discuss the case.

Sagel reminded Guilford that the no-contact order was issued because Carona allegedly tried to persuade Haidl to change his testimony. Allowing the Caronas to meet with potential witnesses but ordering them not to discuss the case would be unenforceable, he said.

Guilford said the government’s request to keep the Caronas away from witnesses on the list had “some merit” but also expressed concern that the list may be too long. He asked defense attorneys and prosecutors to agree on who on the list the Caronas can contact socially and who they should stay away from.

Guilford said it was permissible for the couple to contact their tax preparer and someone identified only as S.P.M., who wanted to attend a social function with the Caronas on Wednesday night at which a family member was to be honored. Steward said the couple would simply thank their friend for attending, shake hands and hug.

hgreza@latimes.com


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